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Stopping a Power Plant in Socorro County

In early December 2001, people in northern Socorro County in the Sabinal area got a notice letter from the Cobisa company stating that they were going to build a power plant near our homes. Most of the people have lived here for many generations. We cannot leave our homes. If we did, our homes would be worthless because who would buy an old adobe home with a power plant with a 100-foot-high smokestack out front? We determined to fight this corporate intrusion into our beautiful community!

The letter stated that the plant would emit 540 tons of pollutants into the air and that they were applying for a New Mexico Air Quality Permit. We had opposed a 360-foot high blinking cell tower, a fight we lost, but that had made us better at knowing what we might do. We got the word out and got on the agenda of the Socorro County Commission. We called a meeting to make plans, intending to get ten or twelve people in our house. The meeting turned into 100 people. Two hundred people came to the County Commission meeting, including great grandmothers and their daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters. We only shouted once but all in unison. The county commissioners looked shocked and passed a moratorium on power plant for 120 days.

We found out that Cobisa is a construction company, they build plants and sell them. Promises of money, jobs, and that the plant will only run a few hours a day are not binding on their buyers. The automated plants hire three to six people certified in turbine maintenance, not usually locals. The power would mostly be exported out of state. The plant could be started on as little as 40 acre feet of water but could eventually acquire as much as 1,000 acre feet and would expand as it acquired the water. They stated in the Commission meeting that they would burn only clean natural gas, but the letter they sent us indicated they would ask for a combined cycle plant that would burn natural gas and fuel oil.

The site they have a lease on, with an option to buy, is located in a 50-acre alfalfa field immediately along side the Rio Grande. The water table is a few feet from the surface. Sand hill Cranes, geese and ducks fly through the area as the Bernardo and La Joya wildlife refuges are nearby. There is a cottonwood bosque on both the north and south sides of field. They said that the steam comes out so fast that it doesn't mix with the air, seemingly implying that it never comes down. What about birds flying above?

A State law gives communities in un-zoned counties the right to set up their own Special Zoning District (SZD). It requires that 51% of the registered voters in the area requesting the SZD sign a petition. We got more than 80% to sign. We now have a 5-member board that will have public hearings to write a simple, relatively un-restrictive zoning ordinance that will let us farmers and rural people do mostly as we chose and prohibit heavy industry or power plants. We think we have stopped Cobisa, which now says they have given up and have no plans to build in New Mexico.

We are educating ourselves and our county commissioners about power plants and we are devising alternatives for the county's tax base that are more compatible with our vision for Sabinal.

Leslie Crowder is an organic beekeeper in the Sabinal area, south of Belen, New Mexico in Socorro County.

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"In 1990 five U.S. National Laboratories reported that either fair competition plus restored research priority, or a proper accounting of its environmental benefits, could enable renewable energy to supply three-fifths of today's total U.S. energy requirements at competitive prices. Renewables could even supply one-fifth more electricity that the United States now uses."

--Natural Capitalism, 1989
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

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